Mike Brey appears to be pushing the right buttons as his team enters the NCAA Tournament.
The Notre Dame head coach met with the media on Selection Sunday shortly after it was revealed that the Irish got a five seed and will play 12th-seeded Princeton in the first round Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. Tip-off is set for 12:15 p.m. on CBS.
Here are some takeaways from that press conference.
Brey’s team has come through in the clutch in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, but Saturday night’s loss to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game is adding to the motivation for the Irish.
Their coach is making sure of that.
“I said last night, ‘You guys play with a pretty darned good edge, but because we couldn’t win this thing, let’s have that add to our edge a little bit,’” Brey said Sunday. “Maybe we’re a little pissed off because we couldn’t get that banner, and we talked about that. Can we play with a little bit of edge in this?”
Brey, of course, said he was thrilled with his team’s inclusion in the 68-team field. Notre Dame has now made the NCAAs in seven of the past eight years and did not have to worry about its place in the bracket this year. At 25-9 and runners-up in the ACC, the Irish’s position was solidified weeks ago.
“To not sweat on Selection Sunday, which we haven’t in a long, long time, is good for the blood pressure and the hairline,” Brey joked.
And like he’s said for the past few weeks, Brey said his team’s experience in the Tournament is a big factor. His senior class of Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem is 6-2 in NCAA Tournament games.
“We delivered in bright lights and played well even though we couldn’t finish and get the championship game, we had our kind of March swagger,” Brey said of the ACC Tournament run. “I said, ‘When that bracket shows up on Sunday night, we’re the only team that’s played in back-to-back Elite Eights,’ and that’s a great advantage of ours and it’s a psychological advantage for this nucleus.’”
The Tigers run the famous Princeton offense, a scheme that originates at the Ivy League school. Brey and his staff are familiar with the offensive attack, having seen it annually during their Big East days against Georgetown.
“I told the guys, ‘The Princeton offense is all through college basketball and the NBA, I said now you finally get to guard the Princeton offense, run by Princeton,’” Brey said. “I said, ‘You’re also the best defensive team I’ve had, and they’ve got to guard us.’”
The Princeton offense emphasizes constant motion, passing, backdoor cuts and heavy screening, both on and off the ball.
It’s not unlike a lot of things Notre Dame’s free-flowing offense does, Brey said.
“There’s a lot of touches,” he said. “They like to enter everything at that elbow. You’re guarding spacing, but of course we guard spacing every day when we guard ourselves. You’re guarding shooting on the perimeter, we guard shooting every day because that’s our personnel. Back cutting, they’re famous for a lot of back cutting, well we cut a lot so we guard cutting.
“We’re Princeton-ish without the predictable movement, ours is free flowing. It’s Princeton-ish as far as spacing and cutting.”
Brey said the staff will go back to its playbook against Georgetown for some of its preparation for Princeton. The Tigers () averaged 72.1 points per game this season (198th in Division I) en route to both a regular season and Ivy League tournament title.
Junior forward Bonzie Colson gave Notre Dame a scare during the second half of Saturday’s ACC title game, twisting his ankle come down on a rebound. Colson left the game briefly, but returned with no apparent problem.
He finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.
A day after the game, Brey said Colson’s ankle is “sore,” but that the 6-foot-5 All-ACC first-teamer will “be fine” for the NCAA Tournament. The 17th-year head coach said Colson will likely be in a protective walking boot until Tuesday as the Irish take their time with the injury.
“By Thursday he’ll be tape, couple Motrin, ready to roll,” Brey joked.
Brey also noted that reserve senior forward Austin Torres has a sprained hand, an injury he played through Saturday. Brey said Torres will be fine.
"We have had tough stretches during the regular season," Brey said. "We have a pretty good recovery plan. We will not do much physically tomorrow at all. Tuesday may be really, really light as well. You’re past real physical practices, we really do need to get some rest.
"That’s my biggest thing, rest and recovery. I’m really glad it’s spring break and these guys don’t have academic demands this week. They can sleep, everything’s ratcheted down. It’s quiet around here, that comes at a good time to get our energy back."
FARRELL’S PRO POTENTIAL
Coming off a strong ACC Tournament showing in which he averaged 14 points per game against Virginia, Florida State and Duke, junior point guard Matt Farrell apparently has caught the eye of NBA scouts.
Brey said Sunday that he’s had conversations with pro scouts about the 6-foot-1 Farrell, who made All-ACC Tournament first team.
“The NBA is really intrigued about him,” Brey said of Farrell. “There’s a bunch of guys intrigued about him. He’s got all of their attention. He’s just really intriguing. He’s come out of nowhere, and that league is really intrigued by him. Just by talking to different scouts and different people, they’ll thoroughly analyze him through his senior year.”
Brey drew a comparison with former Northeastern guard J.J. Barea, a 6-footer who has gone on to have a successful NBA career with the Dallas Mavericks.
“With the new rules in that league, you can’t hold and grab,” Brey said. “Him getting places on the floor, poor man’s Steve Nash kind of stuff. Plus he shoots it, and he shoots it deep. He’s an amazing story, he really is.”
Farrell is currently averaging 14.2 points and 5.5 assists for the Irish. He’s shooting 41.3 percent from 3 and 80.8 percent from the free throw line. Farrell burst onto the scene during last year’s NCAA Tournament when Brey inserted him into the starting lineup.
Since then, the Bridgewater, N.J., native, has become one of the country’s most improved players.
“He is so confident right now and adds so much to our group,” Brey said. “There’s a lot on him. He’s making every decision off that ball screen and he was unbelievable in Brooklyn.
“We earn a five seed because the unknown of our point guard situation,” Brey said, “we get the double-bye, we finish third and we get to the championship game and have a darn good shot at winning it because the unknown point guard became one of the best point guards in the country.”